How Do I Measure My DBA Skills Part 9

Production and Development DBA Skills and Things We Didn’t Touch On

We’ve covered a lot of ground for Production and Development DBAs in terms of the skills and applicable career topics. We’ve mentioned necessary skills with T-SQL, backup/restore, automation, PowerShell, troubleshooting, SSIS, SSRS, patching, Query Store, HA/DR, leadership and emotional intelligence. That’s quite a list! However, looking back at the series, there are still a number of things that weren’t mentioned.

Other skills and career topics not discussed along the way:

  1. OS skills – This once used to be just Window skills. However, with SQL Server on Linux, and depending on what is in use in your environment, you may need to learn the basics of the Linux platform as well as Windows.
  2. I also didn’t touch on the topic of SQL Server Wait Statistics. This is a tried and true method for diagnosing server level issues that can lead to further investigation about what ails your SQL Server.
  3. What about the cloud and virtualization? Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform, VMware, Hyper-V. These are all virtualization platforms that are in use these days, so you may encounter these and need to know, or might want to know, something about how they work.
  4. What about certifications? Are they worthwhile? Should you pursue one? If yes, which one?

Then there is also a third career title I didn’t even mention. What about the DBA whose focus or specialty is in BI? You are the person who takes care of the SQL Servers, but maybe you also write a lot of reports for the business using SSRS, Power BI, maybe SSAS, Tableau, Qlik or some other reporting platform. This may really just be a specialty within the Development DBA role, but it could be separate as well.

Beyond the Senior levels of the types of DBA careers discussed, you’re likely to end up moving into management. That will open up an entirely different set of needed skills and career topics that you will need to explore.

Next Steps To Take

Planning - To Do List

  1. If you’ve read through this series and followed the instructions about building a training plan for skills you would like to develop, then you likely have a significant list of skills to work on. Don’t focus on how long the list is. Select one thing and work on it for however long it takes for you to feel at least semi-comfortable with it. Then, cross it off the list and pick something else. Repeat the process. Within a few weeks or months, you will see a lot of progress.
  2. Remember to keep your skills/career development plan somewhere that allows you to see the plan every day. This will help keep you on track and your To Do list prioritized.
  3. You can go to kand.io and find a variety of graded skills test. There is one for Database Administrators and one for Database Developers. Both were written by the fine people at SQLSKills.com.
  4. If you would like help with anything in this post, or with something else related to SQL Server, reach out to me here, or on Twitter, and I’ll be glad to offer assistance.

 

How Do I Measure My DBA Skills Part 4

Dear reader, we’ve been on a bit of a journey recently so that you can discover what skills are needed at various levels or phases of your career.  The first three phases have been covered in previous blog posts and you have now come to the Senior level for the Production DBA. So, how do you measure the skills a Senior Production DBA should have?

Senior Production DBA – 7+ years of experience

  1. Most competencies from the previous levels.
  2. Advanced analysis of SQL Server issues using native tools such as Extended Events, Perfmon, Query Store and 3rd party monitoring tools.
  3. Makes decisions regarding SQL Server architecture, hardware, virtualization and storage, often in tandem with an infrastructure team.
  4. Designs high availability and DR solutions and may provide guidance to other team members during implementation.
  5. Plans SQL Server migrations.
  6. Leads knowledge sharing in four or more areas.
  7. May possess some competencies from DEV DBA levels up to level 2 or 3.
  8. Regularly demonstrates good self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management skills (emotional intelligence)

You will notice that in previous lists of skills, I have listed skill 1 as “All competencies from the previous level.” However, I have not done that in this case, why? There are at least two reasons that I will detail.

Varying Experiences

You will notice that in previous posts I started listing skills and saying that the person “may” have a certain skill. Maybe you were asked to do a small project that you decided to use SSIS to complete, and SSIS was a new skill at that point. Afterward, you never really needed to use that again or it was used very infrequently. As a result, you have a little exposure but you’re not particularly skilled at it. Consequently, at years 7 and beyond where you are either a Senior DBA or you’re approaching that phase of your career, you may have some skills with SSIS, but maybe you don’t because your job roles never required that. In some roles, you maybe needed to do a fair amount of table design and stored procedure development. This might have been due to the fact that you were the only DBA so you had to do at least some development work. At other employers, those skills weren’t needed. Based on your employer’s needs, you may have used SSRS quite heavily up to this point in your career, but maybe not.

SQL Server Specialization

And then there is the matter of specialization.

The various parts of SQL Server are careers unto themselves. The database engine, SSIS, SSRS, SSAS are all so deep that a person could specialize in any of those areas. Even within some of those areas there are places of focus and skill that can be developed.

For a Production DBA, you will primarily be specializing in the database engine in some way. That could mean you’re really good with HA and DR technologies such as AlwaysOn Failover Clusters or Availability Groups. Maybe you love digging in to the various kinds of replication and leveraging those for business needs. Maybe you love performance tuning and you have found that the Query Store and Extended Events are things you love to use for that. You’re knowledge and skill with those things may be fairly deep as a result. Perhaps the SQL Server environments you have worked in have been heavily virtualized and you took a deep interest in that.

As a result,  if you have 7 + years as a DBA, you may have touched on a wide variety of things, but fell in love with a few select things that you’re now really good at.  This also means, there are things, you’re not that great at.  That’s ok. No one can do everything.

Designing SQL Server Solutions

So, let’s move on to discuss some of the other things in the list. At this point in your career, you’re dong things at a more advanced level, obviously, since this is a Senior phase to your career.

You are most likely collaborating frequently with other Infrastructure people like SysAdmins/VMWare specialists and storage folks at your company in order to design SQL Server solutions. Virtualization for SQL Server is another specialty I previously mentioned and you might be getting into some minutiae about that by this point.

You are the person who is analyzing HA/DR needs for when a new application is being brought on board from a vendor or from your own company’s Dev team. Decisions being made about how to ensure the application always has a back end connection, even when that river next to your building overflows its banks, are things you’re heavily involved in. You might be the person implementing the solution, or you may be simply assisting other people in your company with the implementation.

Knowledge Sharing

Knowledge sharing is definitely prevalent at this point. You regularly share what you know and what you’re learning.  That knowledge should be in several different areas at the Senior level and not just one or two. Your knowledge and skills may also include things of a more Development DBA nature. As previously discussed, this is heavily dependent on employer needs and your own interests.

Native SQL Server Tools

For a Senior Production DBA, native tools like Extended Events, Query Store and Perfmon counters are likely skills and knowledge that you’re comfortable with. You can use them easily in a wide variety of situations, but especially to analyze SQL Server issues that perhaps can’t be solved in other ways or can’t be solved as easily using other methods. Some places want their DBAs to be well-versed in native tools. Some are concerned so much with that because they have invested heavily in monitoring software of some kind.

SQL Server Monitoring Software

You should be comfortable and familiar with using monitoring tools at this point in your career. Platforms like SolarWinds have full environment monitoring like in Server and Application Monitor, that also include templates for monitoring SQL Server. SolarWinds also has Database Performance Analyzer. Sentry One has a full suite of monitoring tools as do Idera,  RedGate, and Quest. There are other options I’m sure.  These are just the one I know about right now that might be of use to you and that you are likely to encounter at your job.

Being able to use these types of platforms to find things like deadlocks, issues indicated by changes in Perfmon counters, and to do query analysis is going to be essential at this point in your career. Software like Brent Ozar’s First Responder Kit may also be something that you’re familiar with and can use easily to diagnose and resolve issues in your SQL Server environment.

Next Steps to Take

  1. Copy/paste the skills list into a Word doc and place an “X” next to any skill that you need to develop.
  2. Create a training plan to learn those skills.
  3. Buy a book on emotional intelligence and read it this month.
  4. Stay tuned because in the next part of the series we will introduce the skills for a Development DBA.
  5. If you would like help with anything in this post or other things related to SQL Server, reach out to me here and I’ll be happy to talk to you.

How-Do-I-Measure-My-DBA-Skills-Part-2

You may be wondering, “How can I know what phase of my career I am in? How can I see what the next steps might look like in terms of skills I may need to move forward?”

As people change jobs, the gears of career progression are turning.  Some new roles may be the same as the recent previous one. Some new roles will have larger spheres of influence and some may have better titles that require new skills. Like the gears in this picture, your job roles fit together and show a progression of sorts.

So if you’re a production  SQL Server Database Administrator, what does phase 2 look like in your career? You’ve survived those first couple of years and you would like to know what is ahead. You want to know the answer to the question, “What skills do I need to get to the next level?” Glad you asked.

Production DBA II – 2-4 years of experience

  1. All competencies from the previous level.
  2. Assist with triage of user issues, job failures and reactive tickets.
  3. May participate in the design of a backup/restore strategy.
  4. Improves existing processes for ongoing SQL Server management, such as configuration changes, in response to ongoing issues.
  5. Installation of new SQL Server instances without supervision.
  6. Looks critically at patch release notes to advise when a security update, cumulative update, or Service Pack is critical to apply and applies those patches to production.
  7. Demonstrates understanding of high availability and disaster recovery technologies and participates in troubleshooting related issues. (DB mirroring, replication, log shipping, potentially AlwaysOn AGs)
  8. Contribute to automation, particularly using T-SQL and PowerShell.
  9. Familiarity with Windows Performance Counters and how to leverage monitoring software to assess performance.
  10. May participate in T-SQL development of stored procedures, triggers, views, etc as well as database design.
  11. May write and troubleshoot basic SSIS packages and handle deployments for SSIS.
  12. Some familiarity with SSRS development and administration.
  13. Participates in SQL Server migrations with some guidance.
  14. May begin leading in knowledge sharing in some capacity in one or more areas from level I or II.
  15. May take an active interest in leadership and in development of leadership skills, including emotional intelligence.

In phase 2, skill and job functions that you were doing all the time, like handling initial triage of break/fix issues, may be things that you assist other people with rather than have the sole responsibility for yourself. Activities you were doing under guidance during phase 1, the first few years of your career, you will do now with less guidance because you’re better at it and people can see that you’re better at that particular thing. This might include something like installing and configuring SQL Server on a new instance. In phase 2 of your career you may still reference someone else’s guide for this process, but no one is going to be watching you while you do the work.

At this stage you also begin to be more of an independent contributor. You will start to independently recognize opportunities for and make changes in the SQL Server environment that will benefit performance or some other aspect of database management. Automation of work will be something you begin to make your own contributions in, whether that’s automating something with T-SQL, or a new skill showing up in this part of your career, like PowerShell, SSIS, or SSRS.

If you’re fortunate, in this part of your career the more Senior people will be leading a SQL Server migration project.  When you were in phase 1, you only vaguely knew this sort of thing was being worked on and you certainly weren’t working on the project with anyone.  Here in phase 2 of your career, you will likely be given at least some smaller tasks to do related to a larger task, like a SQL Server migration.

Participating in a migration project is great for your skill and career development  because it is usually at least a moderately complex operation to migrate a SQL Server.  This means more people are needed and more parts of the SQL Server management skill set are touched on during the work. A project like this also means more exposure to working directly with the more Senior people, which will get you noticed.

As you stay in phase 2, you will gain increased proficiency at tasks from phase 1 of your career.  This may lead to you occasionally teaching others what you know about those skills and those work activities. Some leadership skills and opportunities may begin to develop from teaching others what you know.  You have to demonstrate good people skills as you teach technical subjects and people may begin to think of you as something of a leader.

Next Steps to Take

  1. Copy/paste the above numbered list to a Word doc.  Think carefully about each one and whether or not you currently meet this criteria.  Put an “X” next to any item you need to work on.
  2. For each item you placed an “X” next to, create a plan for improving skills related to that item. If you’re not sure what Log Shipping is or you don’t know anything about how to use PowerShell with SQL Server, then open your favorite search engine and look around.  There will be people and tutorials that explain it. Maybe you know SSIS or SSRS are used at your company and you’ve always wanted learn the technology.  Perhaps your company has monitoring software for your SQL Server environment and you have been interested in learning how it works. Put these things on your training plan that you’re making in this step.
  3. If you would like help with anything in this post, or with something else related to SQL Server, reach out to me here or on Twitter, and I’ll be glad to offer assistance.