What does it really mean to be a database administrator? In an increasingly technologically globalized world, this specialty has taken on a very important role. When I started working in Oracle technologies, my first exposure to them was with database administration. It was several years of intense study and many hours of practice, all self-taught, that allowed me to experience what this specialty really meant. From my point of view, being a database administrator is like being entrusted with the most precious thing a business has; the company’s data and information. Today, having passed through that role and currently being a business owner, I am totally convinced of the importance of having a database administrator on our team.
So, I’m presenting the stories of four database administrators who are recognized in the Oracle world, and sharing their insights on how started their careers and establish themselves as experts in that area.
If you want to be a database administrator and you don't know where to start, I’m hoping that our experts will be able to answer some typical and often-asked questions to give you a more personal view of their profession and present you the basic tools you will need to get started on the same path.
Without more preamble, I have the pleasure of presenting the stories of: Ronald Vargas Quesada, Joel Perez, Rita Nuñez and Gisela Velazco, as told to me in recent interviews. I want to thank each one them for agreeing to share their stories with us;they are not just excellent professionals but also excellent people who continuously help the community with their technical knowledge and experience.
Let's start down the career path of DBAs now alongside Ronald, Joel, Rita, and Gisela:
Who or what influenced you to become a DBA?
Hello people, my name is Ronald Vargas and I grew up in a small town called San Isidro del Guarco, in the canton of the same name, in the province of Cartago in Costa Rica. Why do I tell you this? Because here is where this passion for technology was born. Not because it's a highly technological town; but rather as recently as in the 80's, it was a place with very few technological comforts. To get a fixed telephone line, you had to wait up to eight years. The basic services were present, but life ran at a very low speed. Being quite simple, community life revolved around an industrial center to the north of the population. Many of the people worked in companies that manufactured export products .
By age 15, I had my first contact with technology, a Commodore Basic (v4.0) CPU: 6502 @ 1 MHz. RAM: 32 KB, owned by a friend. My financial means prevented me from even dreaming of having one of them myself. That’s how I took my first steps in the world of 1s and 0s.
I was studying accounting in a vocational school and later, being faithful to family tradition, I entered the university to study business administration, which is what most of my relatives did. After one semester at the university, I came to the conclusion that if I followed this path, I would die in the attempt. So, I decided to turn my life around 180 degrees and return to the passion awakened by computers four years earlier.
I entered a computer school and started taking beginning programming courses. BASIC, PASCAL, and COBOL were all part of the menu. However, I felt a certain attraction to knowing how code was interpreted and compiled at runtime, and how it carried out what I created in my programs.
Shortly thereafter, at age 22, I had my first opportunity to work at a computer job. During the previous years of study, I had combined work in an office as an accountant with the study of computer science. This first experience in computer work framed my life forever. I joined a research project of the CIDA (Canadian Association for International Development), whose task was to develop a SIG for the Government of Costa Rica. I was part of a team of more than 26 people from different professional branches and supported by approximately 40 governmental institutions that worked in a coordinated way, contributing information and time to the development of the system.
There, I had the opportunity to serve as project director to Don Marc Dawson and his adviser, Luc Bilodeau, both Canadians. Dawson had more than 30 years of experience and was a world citizen, and Bilodeau was a study partner of the directors of AT&T at that time. They broadened my vision and showed me the world, and I prepared to conquer it.
Despite the fact that I joined the project with a low profile (Assistant Systems Administrator and Database Administrator and trainer of the Ministry of Housing and Human Settlements), I was given the opportunity to take courses in Oracle Database, which was the RDBMS that interacted with the INFOCAD Geographic Information System. I was part of the first Oracle training group in the Central American region.
After a few months, the project DBA resigned to work in Canada and the question arose as to whether or not I would be capable of taking over the position. With little experience, but with a dose of perhaps unrealistic optimism, I did not step back from claiming the role. After a month, with much dedication and support from Luc, I got the go-ahead to take on the work, and that's where my career began: managing a Data General AViiON 6200 mainframe with INFOCAD and an Oracle 6.0 database on SCO UNIX. The rest of my work history is known to many people. What I have told you just now, few know of.
I was the first technologist in my family. As a child, I loved math and science. Not without reason, my father used to call me, "Crazy Scientist", because for every situation I had an explanation based on facts. That was the foundation, my search for the right profession. I wanted to know how to communicate to people the scientific bases of what was happening with their processes.
During this period when I was working for the Canada project, I earned the nickname "MacGyver", after the TV series character, because, I could find a way out of situations that seemed insoluble.
If I had to blame someone for what I am today, the ‘culprits’ would be Don Marc and Luc, people who I love very much and who I will keep forever in my heart. Thank you for believing in me, for giving me those opportunities and for being "crazy" enough to trust another "crazy".
My story is rather atypical, because when I was a child I decided, to become a millionaire as an adult – I think all children at some point in their lives want that. So, that was my main objective. I started to investigate different careers, and while I was researching, I heard everyone in my country saying that the computer world was going to dominate the planet and that those who mastered computers would have great opportunities to earn well and be financially independent. Based on that, I chose a career in IT when I was somewhere between 12 and 15 years of age.
Once decided, I started to investigate what IT specialties and what companies offered the most money – at that time I did not consider the other great benefits of a technology career. And, based on all that research, I found that Oracle was a very powerful option.
I used to collect newspaper ads with everything that was related to IT jobs, and Oracle was always present in ads with very powerful aspects. So Oracle positioned itself in my mind; but of course, I did not know what Oracle really was back then. For me, it was just a brand.
Time passed, and at age 20 I entered the university. At that time I was teaching at an Institute of Electronic Systems – since my career was oriented to electronic systems rather than IT – and I had come across a student working for Prentice Hall, a leading educational publisher in the market, who said to me, "Hey, I think you are a very bright person, and you speak English... have you heard of Oracle? Do you know about Oracle?" And I said," Well, I've heard of them and I've been getting some information, but I haven’t really gone into it yet”. And he said, "Well look, in my company in the headquarters at Paris, in France, we are looking for a DBA. It is a very high level job, and the person who gets it will be relocated. They’re looking at applicants anywhere in the world, and I have the information here if you want it to contact those people for the job."
That was when the dream that I’d had since childhood was finally fully clear, and I thought, with this, either I become financially independent or at least it may be the right entry point to a specialization that makes me a man of the world ,with the economic clout to reach my goals.. (And, by the way, it’s really turned out that way.)
I made the contact, and despite the fact that I didn’t get an offer at that time, I decided that Oracle was everything I had been looking for since I was a child and that it was going to be my professional career.
I was still studying at the university at the time, and since I was completely convinced that Oracle was going to be my life, I went to a bookstore and bought every book I could find on Oracle, something like 20 or 30 books about any area of Oracle such as financial, development, etc., since I didn’t know anything at all.
Later I asked a friend to install three new computers in my room and transform my room into a laboratory. All this, in order to be able to get that kind of a job and of course I did it without knowing the depth of Oracle technology and the time it takes to specialize as a DBA.
So, I put my other studies on a freeze and spent six months in my room with my books and computers, studying database. After that I felt that I had achieved a very good level of knowledge, but of course everything I knew was self taught.
Later on, I proposed to my mother, a business woman, to set up an institution where I could offer Oracle education, and that is what we did. My institute became very famous and that allowed me to familiarize myself with Oracle products and further enhance my knowledge about Oracle. After a little less than a year, I got, and accepted, an attractive offer from a telecom company. So, I started working in real companies being a DBA when I was about twenty-one years old and that's how I started my career formally as a DBA in companies.
The first thing that influenced me was that when I was studying at the University of Engineering Systems, I had a course in the third year called Database and I loved it!
After three years in my studies, I had the opportunity to work in a company that represented Informix in Argentina. There, I learned programming (4GL language) and database administration, but I leaned more towards the administration. Later, I joined as an Informix Database Administrator in Telecom Argentina S.A. and since there were many Oracle databases there, I was very interested in learning about Oracle. I got involved and my work required me to take courses that over time made me more specialized in Oracle.
To answer this question I have to tell an anecdote. It started with a failure, because my first failed exam in the university was, ironically, Database Administration. This made me feel discouraged. I went home crying, thinking that with this I would lose my financial aid scholarship that I was receiving at the time.
My older brother told me to not drop out. He told me that I was very studious and I always did well in my subjects, and that overall I had very high grades. He said, perhaps you should study Database Administration harder and even retake the course, because, who knows? Tomorrow it might serve you better than any other course and be the source of your work.
His words were the right thing for me to hear at that moment and I can say that I studied very hard in that course the second time around. I confronted databases as a subject not simply to improve in that course; rather, I wanted to dominate it.
My brother couldn’t have been more right. It has been 12 years since I’ve dedicated myself to DB and I always find something new to investigate and keep my curiosity intact.
What do you think would be the first steps to become a DBA?
Persistence, dedication, reading, and studying. These four facets are elementary to start this or any other career path. Don’t worry that there’s too much information and that it takes longer to acquire the knowledge than it does for technology to advance and innovate. Most importantly, put your knowledge to the test again and again. Constant practice reaffirms the knowledge acquired and allows you to discover new things.
One more point, don’t go to bed without having learned something new every day. If you practice this routine daily, at the end of each year you will have learned 365 new things.
To me, the first steps that anyone who wants to start in the world of database administration should take are:
1. Familiarize yourself with the career. Deeply investigate what the job is about and what the potential career paths are. It is very common now for people to study up on careers. The Internet is a powerful tool that allows you to do this investigation. There are people who, in mid-career, discover that they frequently have to work outside normal business hours, and that in a way their career is enslaving them, since they constantly have to be learning new things in order to be competitive in the market. Those are factors that many people do not really see initially.
2. Find and read articles on the Internet that talk about starting and developing a career as a DBA. There are many people who are eager to tell you how they got started and advanced; the typical tasks they did, just as I am now sharing my experience.
Basically th first two steps are to familiarize yourself and collect enough information about the job to know in advance what you would be facing on a day-to-day basis in this career.
3. Make sure you understand the concept of a relational database. For this, there are a number of books available in the market. You need to know what databases do and their value in the world.
4. Learn SQL Standard and everything related to DDL (Data Definition Language) and DML (Data Manipulation Language).
5. Learn the architecture of the database engine you will be using and learn completely how to administer this database engine. Start taking courses in database administration. I’ve used Oracle University courses a lot. I have been taking these courses for over 10 years and I can say that they are very good.
An Oracle University Administration I course gives you everything you need to know to achieve the Oracle Associate level, which would be considered equivalent to a Junior DBA in the market. I highly recommend Oracle University courses; particularly Administration I and of Administration II. This second course provides about 50% of the knowledge that a person has to have to be a DBA at a Standard level. In the first course you learn everything related to architecture and in the second you learn about backup, tuning, etc., which are more advanced topics.
Something else I recommend is reading the Oracle Apress books. The only thing to consider here is that a new student could get lost, because these books can be a deep dive; but there are very good "Oracle for Dummies" books.
In my opinion, taking the Oracle Database Administrator training is the beginning.
My advice is just to stay curious all the time. In databases you can constantly innovate and discover.
If you limit yourself to learning administration by-the-book you will be a good DBA but if you keep curious, you will be the best DBA.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start on this path?
You must be a person determined to take on challenges and devote long days to research and study. A DBA is not formed solely by taking an Oracle University certified course. In a course or group of courses, you acquire part of the knowledge but then comes the real school, which is to bring that knowledge into practice. In the real world, each situation is unique. There are no two cases in which the exact same solution can completely resolve the situation. It is necessary to know not only database architecture but also other areas such as intermediate layer, programming languages, applications, operating systems and systems engineering. The world of a DBA is a macro-world. It goes beyond the screen and the keyboard that we have in front of us. You cannot pretend to tune up a database without knowing what a set of instructions can do or the impact they may have when using a hardware engineering solution for a database.
When you are a DBA, you become kind of a doctor. The only difference between one profession and the other is the type of patient. Late nights, no weekends, shortened vacation, excessive consumption of caffeine and cookies, are all common to both professions. Even interfamilial problems are common to both. It is not unusual to meet a DBA who has failed in their marriage because of the inability to commit to established schedules. This is what my advice addresses: "Involve your partner in development of your career. Communicate and be open with him/her. From the outset, communicate that you will need to work some nights and some long days. It is part of the profession and part of the making of a professional. But do not let schedules mar your relationship. In the end, what matters is your wellbeing and that of your partner and family. Work is important, but not the most important thing. A job can be recovered. The love and time for your family, cannot."
If you are prepared to do all this, there is room for you in the field.
The most important advice you could give to a person who wants to become a good or expert database administrator, is to dedicate enough time to master the English language in all its facets, since the advanced information of this specialty as well as the advice of its greatest experts and the highest level materials are always in that language.
Many years ago, I still lived in my country and my level in written English was okay but my level of understanding was limited because I did not have the opportunity to speak the language and improve my conversational abilities. I remember once seeing a video of a very important meeting between leading personalities of the time. They debated the following topic: "Who is considered an expert and what should a person do to be an expert in Oracle technologies?" It is logical that there are many different views on the subject. One may think that being an expert is to be Oracle ACE Director or to be a Certified Master but someone else may think that being an expert means having many hours of actual deployments, etc. Each person has criteria for this and I was eager to know the opinion of these experts in the video, but at that time I did not have good understanding in English.
My listening skills were not strong, so I spent two or three years working on them, and at one point I even tried to pay people to translate what various experts were saying, but they could not do it because in the discussion group there were people with very strong British accents, so the people I asked couldn’t give me the translation.
The important point here is that for me this information was extremely valuable but I could not access it because my comprehension was not good. I can assure you, lack of English language knowledge limits you not only to accessing this type of information, but also when it comes to networking with people directly at international events such as Oracle Open World.
So beyond giving the typical advice of reading books, guides, participating in forums and, everything else, the top advice I would give people is to invest time, money, and effort and gather all the resources in mastering the English language.
To be a good DBA you have to like investigating. In our work, errors and bugs often appear and we must find ways to solve them. Knowledge of English is also important, at least reading, because most of the documentation is in English and the commands are in English. Although we are now publishing articles in OTN in Spanish, we still can't compare the amount of information in our language with the amount of information that can be found in English.
Something that made my path a lot easier was to have prior knowledge of SQL. Although it is not a requirement to be DBA, in my case it facilitated many tasks.
Also it will help to have a good programming base in any language in order to know the control structures that allow you to automate tasks.
Along with this, I think that knowing the basics of managing an operating system, such as Linux, can contribute a lot.
To start, I think that downloading an Express version of the DB can be very practical. Then, with more experience, you can start with more complex installations of Enterprise versions.
The DBA experts I interviewed also discussed the tasks performed by a DBA. Rita tells us from her experience that the main tasks of a DBA are: performing the installation of database software, creating the database, migrating versions of the database, managing space in tablespaces, performing preventive tasks, monitoring performance, detecting high-impact SQL, tuning the instance, backing up the database, creating users and roles, assigning permissions, and resolving incidents.
On the other hand, Gisela tells us of her passion for tuning and performance of SQL queries as she finds in it an endless world of possibilities to create, test, measure, and improve communication with the DB through SQL queries. She also likes exploring each path or execution plan, always trying to minimize response times while consuming the least amount of resources.
After you’ve learned about the background and experiences of each of the experts, I hope that this article will inspire you to take the first steps in becoming a Database Administrator.
Finally, I want to share another article that reflects my experience as a developer along with the experience of two fellow colleagues where we tell our story and how we became developers. I invite you to read the article if you are looking to learn more about how to get started in the development area.
Ronald Vargas Quesada
Ronald has over 25 years of Oracle DBA experience. He is a professor at ULAC. He is responsible for the creation of the Costa Rica and Central American Oracle Users Groups. He was the first Central American ACED. He is an active participant in the Oracle Community and enjoys helping his peers to find solutions and answers in Oracle Technology. Ronald has been the Director of Technology for the LAOUC since 2012. Ronald has been an Oracle University instructor since 2000 and was recognized as one of the top 15 LAD instructors by Oracle University. He strives to keep his blog updated regularly and enjoys sharing his thoughts with the community at http://oracledbacr.blogspot.com. He current works for NOVACOMP S.A. as an Oracle consultant and solution architect.
Joel Pérez is an expert DBA, Oracle ACE Director and an Oracle Certified Master in Oracle Maximum Availability Architecture, Oracle Database cloud administration, and Oracle Database 11g and12c. He has over 17 years of real-world experience with Oracle technology and specializes in the design and implementation of solutions for the cloud, high availability (HA), disaster recovery, upgrades, replication, and most areas related to Oracle Database. Currently, he works as chief technologist and Cloud architect at Yunhe Enmo (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd. www.enmotech.com in Beijing, China.
Rita is an Oracle ACE and DBA with more than 15 years of experience. She is a Systems Engineer, an Oracle University Official Course Instructor and CEO of Tecnix Solutions, where she leads the services of Consulting and Training in Oracle Products. She collaborates with the Oracle Community writing articles for OTN and in her blog. She also has given presentations at OTN events since 2013 in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile as well as in the Oracle Open World 2016 event. She is a member of the AROUG Board of Directors and Coordinator of the SIG Database & RAC.
Gisela graduated in Information Systems Engineering at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional – Córdoba Regional, Argentina, and then took the Oracle Database Administrator course at the Proydesa Academy at the same University. At the end of her degree, she joined the telecommunications company CTI Móvil (currently Claro AMX of the American Mobile Group).
She began as an Oracle database administrator for Data Warehouse environments in 2005 after working on transactional databases and lately has worked as a specialist in tuning and performance of SQL queries. She also provides virtual database classes for universities, tuning and performance workgroups, as well as instruction in other branches of DB management, such as RMAN. Additionally, she works as a database consultant. Her future project is to create a virtual school related to databases, with content ranging from the simple tasks such as SQL queries to the most complex tasks such as stress tests to SQL queries after being optimized.