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4 Attitudes I Wish I Had Earlier as a DBA


Outside of Work is Really Important

This one is first and longest  for a reason.

Time – it keeps going. It doesn’t pause while you have a busy month at the office. That means the things that matter the most in life keep happening. Whether you are there or not.

Right now. Right this moment – especially if you are new to IT, or in your beginning years – you have a decision to make. It’s possibly one of the most critical decisions you will ever make..  Ready? What’s more important? Your work life? Or your outside of work life?

You need to balance things. I’m not saying work isn’t important – it’s very important – it’s a blessing to be able to do work and provide. It’s important to show up, to put in your all and work your tail off and put in an honest days work.  BUT… It can get out of control very quickly.

There are years that I would do anything to go back and change. I have a lot of really great memories of my 1st and 3rd biological children at young ages. The first because I managed my time differently and was home and around more.  The third because I saw some of the damage my failures here were having, that and going independent as a consultant helped.

My middle biological child, though? I look at his pictures of his first 3-5 months and it’s a blur.  I wasn’t totally absent at all. But I was absent enough.. Absent enough to not really be able to close my eyes and see his 3 month old face like I can my first or my third… Or even his 1 year old face. I missed many things between late nights and commutes. I’m not going to get that time back. I missed real time and memories. Because I put the emphasis on work.

For the most part – your managers aren’t going to step in and say “stop that – you are working too much” (I argue a great manager will and should). The company isn’t going to whine. If you fall into the trap of overworking needlessly – it will bite you hard, and 10 years will go by before you realize you were bitten by it. 

Bonus Tip – Emergencies happen for  DBAs. We get calls in the middle of the night. You need to separate the real emergencies that require immediate attention from those that don’t. Develop that skill today. Say “no” a little more often.



Get some..  As a DBA – you’ll lean on this a lot. You will be angry at developers, users, managers, project managers, other DBAs, vendors (Oh.. vendors…) and sometimes Microsoft. Sometimes it is well placed.. Sometimes it isn’t. But if you don’t approach situations with empathy and ask, like Tom’s post suggests, “what’s their MacGruffin?“, you are going to do some of the things I’ve done – and am not proud of – in my early and mid points of my career… A miss here can ruin a career or goodwill at a company. I’ve had customers tell me that that was a reason they expand relationships with us – because we exercise empathy.

Remember that we all start somewhere. Remember that there is a base knowledge that everyone brings and a perspective everyone brings. It’s different for everyone. History and situations influence that. Until you know what that is with someone, until you understand where they are coming from – put away assumptions..  Best Cure Here? Get to know the people you work with. Listen. Understand and sit with them and figure things out.

Bonus Tip – E-Mail is a dangerous tool when you lack empathy – because it is easy to rip someone apart in e-mail, it’s easy to let your assumptions boil. Put it down and go talk in person or over the phone with them. It’s harder to lack empathy when you are talking to the person…


Hero != Blank Check

DBA Hero
Don’t focus on just being the DBA hero…

I used to have  “white knight” syndrome, still do sometimes. I wanted to charge into the situation on my noble steed, slay the dragons and then let everyone know I slayed the dragons. I guess I’m a people-pleaser and my “love language” is praise and affirmation. I got it too. I worked insane hours. I put my best effort in (when there was a crisis..) and I solved problems and was the go-to guy wherever I went. It was great…


Except… That it wast great in the long run.. In my focus on being the hero – I became really really useful when a big problem arose – and burned out, bitter and lazy the rest of the time. You see I’d drop some other tasks, I’d mess up some routine things – because I spent my time saving the day. The worst part?? I rationalized this behavior. My attitude was “well do you want dragons slayed or not? If you want dragons slayed, then you should just be happy with me…”  

Bonus Tip – Do the small stuff really well. Make everything a dragon to slay. Don’t do things for the praise of others – do them to do a great job and work hard. Don’t expect something because you kill a dragon – just do it because it’s part of the job… This attitude is a hard one to shake. 



Getting Things Done

This one is quick. Get a system for getting things done. If you were that kid in school who never followed up on assignments, if you never got your term paper started until the last minute.. FIX.THAT.PROBLEM.NOW!! The biggest challenge I have carried with me for these 35 years I’ve been in this body? Procrastination. It’s cost me money. It’s cost me time. It’s cost me happy customers.

Consistency is key. You can be a dragon slayer  – but if you slack off and don’t get things done? If you say “yes” and then never deliver –  you’ll be known for that. You won’t be seen for the marvelous piece of code you delivered or the fact that you saved the day.. You’ll be seen as that unreliable DBA whose yes means maybe and dates always slip… 

Get a system. Get one that works now and keep yourself accountable here. Or else.


Tag..  YOU are it.

I want to hear your thoughts on this. What do you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you started? You don’t have to be a DBA for this. If you are in the SQL Server Community, I tag you – If you want to share-  blog about this, add a comment.  But I’ll call a few people out specifically:

I hope to see your posts. Link back to me or just send me an e-mail with your post and I’ll maybe do a wrap up post.

Brent also reminds me of a great resource we both contributed to from John Sansom. A free e-book for DBAs starting out. Chalk full of great articles. (And thanks to Brent this section got a lot smaller. He quickly shot back his tips, and he was much more to the point.)

Article by Mike Walsh

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34 thoughts on “4 Attitudes I Wish I Had Earlier as a DBA”

  1. I like the items you talked about. Relationship building is a big soft skill. It helps in numerous ways. You could be the smartest person in the world, but without building relationships, it will be challenging to get places. I see that all the time. It’s not just what you know, but in reality it is also who you know. Personally or professionally.

    Be Consistent – Don’t just show up to some triage, or group meeting once every 6 months (if it is a regular meeting) and expect to be known as the go to person. You need to establish yourself, and to do that, you need to be consistent.

    Participate – I see a number of people that keep the heads down and do their day to day job. But then wonder why they aren’t moving ahead, or being asked to do the fun projects, or be that trusted advisor. You need to step out and show what you can do, or are willing to do.

  2. Great tips, Mike.

    Couldn’t agree more regarding email. If there’s one thing I wish I learned earlier, it’s how horrible email is for communicating difficult stuff, particularly when it comes to conflict. Sometimes conflict is necessary, but email is possibly the worst way to communicate it.

    • I fully agree. It is a dangerous tool. And if you have a slight temper problem – that is fanned by slight anonymity -it’s even worse 😉

    • Good stuff, Tim. Really good stuff. Thanks! Left a comment on your post. Looking forward to seeing more of these.

  3. Being a newbie and trying to learn it all and do it all BEFORE even getting in any door AND while doing the things that I was actually hired to do…:)- this article came to my inbox at the most purr-fect time.
    Thank you

    • Hey Justine,

      That comment alone just made my week. And made it worth it. Thanks for letting me know it is helping. Look to the recap post next week and you’ll see more tips from a bunch of folks who participated. That book I link to is great, and the pingbacks above these comments are already starting to come in and have some even better advice :).

  4. I was lucky enough years ago to work for a relentless, driving entrepreneur who, upon hiring me, told me “Learn the business.”

    This was completely outside of anything technology-related, but it made everything I did as a DBA so much more relevant and useful to the staff and systems I supported.

    I knew I’d nailed this when there came a day that I jumped into a complicated, intense conversation between 2 managers and was able to explain the business logic of what they thought was a software problem (but was actually a correct outcome of their misunderstanding of business process).

    • Great thoughts Rich. Great great addition of advice. True no matter what you do – but for DBAs and Data professionals? It’s imperative that we learn the business. We make better decisions that way. Or we can solve fights and look like we know the business better than managers like you did 😉 Thanks for sharing and stopping by!

  5. You also need to learn how to be assertive. I remember learning how being assertive is being respectful of both yourself and the other party. I dealt with this yesterday with a customer. Their task was the most important thing to them, but there were bigger items in play than their task. I worked on it for awhile, and then told them I needed to fix the other things first. They weren’t happy and threatened to go to their manager. I told them to go ahead and I would work on their problem, but the other ones needed to be completed first. Of course it helps if you’re confident as well, but then this starts to get complicated. (I did fix their problem about a hour later…) 🙂

  6. Great article..I have a formula for explaning the inefficiency of any email chain. Efficiency = 1/( number of replies down the email chain x (number of to + 2xnumber of cc )x(max date of email in the chain-min date email in the chain) in days ) x 100 % 🙂

  7. I am also a newbie, to the SQL world, if not the professional world, and I appreciate the words of this article. They apply regardless of your profession, but being new to something – and the related pressures – makes it easy to lose track.
    Thank you for these timely words to me,

  8. Before accepting a new position, ask to talk to your direct manager if they were not part of the interview process.

    On a couple of occasions, I met my manager on the first day of work. These positions always ended up very stressful and not much fun, even though I learned a ton.

    Having a good, fair and decent manager, who buffers you from a lot of the dirt, makes A LOT of difference. The only thing left to worry about is the technology, which is why we all got into this business in the first place.


  9. This post just seems to be the post that keeps on giving. I had another one that popped in my head and it could have already been mentioned, although a quick scroll through didn’t produce it. Mistakes – it’s okay to make them. It is how we grow and learn. I had someone approach me new to the scene and was so frightened to make a mistake. We are all human and no one is perfect ~ yes not even the best although we may think so. The Ability to LEARN from those mistakes is the key. Comes from growth.


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