Do you live in a town with a dump? I do (well, transfer station). On any given weekend you can find people looking for treasure in the scrap metal or electronics bins.

I never thought I’d say it, but over the past couple weeks of visiting the dump, I have found an amazing treasure that will help my career. Maybe yours?

“What’s the Treasure, Mike?”

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No, it's not a new computer or developer attack broom

A story of two attitudes

Alright, I tricked you. There is no physical treasure to claim. Instead I found another story to add to my life lessons category to apply to my day job.

When I visit the dump I see what I would imagine are common dump frustrations – Grumpy staff working on cold (or hot) mornings getting yelled at by customers mad about fees for larger items.  People ignoring the rules about what goes where – “forgetting” to recycle, machinery breaking down, etc.

It’s a thankless job –  A lot of standing or sitting around, some yelling and every so often you find the staff going a bit over the top with the rules and empowerment. I can’t blame them, they probably get in trouble when the town racks up too much in fees from the next stop of our trash because of bad sorting.

This authoritarian type of employee can be found pretty easily. He is there to look at what you are doing and you know it and he wants you to know it. Forget that piece of plastic in the regular trash and you are getting chewed out. He was given some power, he likes it and he is going to demand your “respect” by making sure he points out your mistakes as loud as possible. He works there, you don’t, “don’t forget it”. We had this guy in my town. It appears as though he was replaced. Contrast that with…

A Newer, More Improved Attitude

A few weeks ago I noticed a new employee up at the compactor. I saw an unfamiliar sight when I saw him – he was unloading the trash from the vehicle in front of me. When I pulled up and got out, he was taking my trash bags and heaving them into the compactor as I walked to the back.

When I saw this I said, “Hey thanks for the help! You don’t have to do that though, I can get it!” His reply, “What else am I going to do out here? Helping folks out makes the day go by faster and keeps traffic moving better. Keeps me young” shocked me. What a response, what a lesson. We chatted about the job and his motivation a bit. He was smiling, seemed to enjoy his job and helping.

Every week since, I’ve been greeted the same way. Pleasant conversation and smiling help with my trash. Today was a cold, windy day. Normally the authoritarian dump guy would spend the colder days in the “office” trailer (unless someone was breaking a big rule). He was still out there helping unload the trash. I told him I appreciated it and was surprised by the consistent help. His answer was simple, “Nah, what else am I going to do? Why sit back there and let the day drag on?” His partner, a familiar face at the dump, has also been helping lately; it seems as though he’s started a new trend. new paint is everywhere and when asked the new guy indicated it was time to make it look nicer around there.

I am sure he still charges money to unload a couch. I am sure he even notices the “bang!” of a glass jar in regular trash bags and has to say something. I bet his approach is different, though. I’d imagine some folks recycle just because of the help they get now (and knowing he is seeing their trash bags up close).

What does this mean to a DBA?

To me, I Have experienced a real life moral story with implications to put into practice right now.

What’s the Moral?


In a sentence:It doesn’t matter what your job is, enjoy it and think about what you can do to make it a better experience for you and your customers.

Expanded:

  • As DBAs we can come across as the authoritarian dump guy – The developers are our customers. They have deadlines and issues just like we do. We make mistakes. They make mistakes. Let’s cut them some slack and lift up a trash bag with them, have a conversation and figure out how we can help each other.
  • Regardless of our task or assignment, we can have fun – This morning at the dump, I was greeted with a great attitude and smile. This was in spite of a pair of bright red ears in the cold.
  • Building up people builds allies – What have you done for others lately? As DBAs we are under pressure (who isn’t?) from a few directions. When problems happen the Database is often blamed. When we are brought into the loop it is often way too late. When the network or disks aren’t cooperating, we sometimes aren’t believed. So? We can get bitter, take it out on the first code review we get invited to (or experience during a production performance problem) or we can smile and have a, “how can I help” attitude. We can help others out and focus on what we can be doing better while still holding firm to the right way. This keeps us in the data advocate role but does it with honey instead of bees.

My own trash became my treasure here.  I was reminded of some important lessons. I was given a thought process to take back to apply to my day job and I was shown one way that I can work harder at living out that Bible verse I claim on my business cards. (Col 3:23-24  And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.)

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