Learning, Career Development and Mentoring


glasses-272399_1280-smallYesterday I received pretty much the same question from three different people, or maybe one person pretending to be three people. 🙂 The questions went something like this.

I want to get good at RAC. Will you teach me?

One of the three suggested I might want to use my Sundays teaching them. 🙂

I’m not mad at people for asking this and I don’t want to offend anyone by mentioning this, but it goes back to a recurring theme on this blog. Some people have a very passive approach to learning and want everything given to them on a plate. The education systems in some parts of the world actively encourage this model of learning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that people who have this passive approach to learning never get good at anything!

This links into another topic I have a strong opinion of, which is mentoring. I know some people are really into this and maybe I just don’t understand it properly, but I hate the idea of mentoring. I’ve seen it done several times and it seems to be more about blowing smoke up the arse of the mentor than helping the person being mentored. Maybe I’ve just witnessed bad examples of mentoring. If it is done badly, it perpetuates the passive approach to learning. The, “I don’t know what to do. Will you tell me?”, attitude.

I think it’s really important that people follow their own path and learn to learn for themselves. Part of that is making mistakes and learning from them. You will invariably gravitate to individuals that you look up to and inspire you, but it’s not up to them to guide you and you definitely shouldn’t try to turn yourself into a pale imitation of them.

Some of the most interesting and useful people I’ve met have come from non-science backgrounds, where free thought and creativity are encouraged. Bad science teaching, of which there is a lot, is prescriptive and discourages innovative thought in favour of learning facts.

Every time you feel you need help from someone regarding learning something new or career development, ask yourself the question, “Is there something I can I do about this?”, before you look for someone else to answer it for you.

Here are some related posts I’ve written over the years.

Like I said before, this is not about offending people. It’s about trying to encourage personal development, and of course, my opinion could be completely wrong from your standpoint, in which case I’m not the mentor for you. 🙂



Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

8 thoughts on “Learning, Career Development and Mentoring”

  1. You mention “bad science teaching” at one point and I think that sums up, for me, what I think you are saying (and which I agree with).

    I had effective teachers and poor teachers at school, as we probably all did. The poor teachers just told you what was on the syllabus and wanted you to remember it – often “learning by rote” where you just have to keep repeating it until the information stuck. I hated it, I have a poor memory.

    The effective teachers asked you what you thought about things or how you would work something out. Or they didn’t just teach the facts but said something about where those facts led.

    I know some people prefer learning by rote as they simply remember what they have been told and trot it out – it’s easy for them as they have good memories. But it’s rubbish for actually solving problems or doing something new – key skills for people in most IT roles.

    BTW I think there is just bad teaching and it is not fair to say bad science teaching – when we two were growing up there was a real dearth of science teachers as the pay was so crap, so you were often taught science by someone who, basically, was not a scientist.

  2. Martin:

    I’m sure there is bad teaching in many disciplines, but I’ve mostly witnessed it in sciences, where it is easy to be prescriptive.



  3. Great article! I’ve worked with Oracle databases in various capacities since 1985. (Most of this time was spent in small shops, so most of my experience is with SE. There are things like RAC that I’ve never had the opportunity to learn; I may know more than I give myself credit for, but I always feel like I should know more than I do!). Many times during those years I would have a co-worker say “how do I learn Oracle?”. The conversation usually goes like this:

    Them: “how do I learn Oracle?”
    Me: “Go learn to write SQL”
    Them: “how do I do that?”
    Me: “by writing SQL. Here, I’ve set up the demo tables for you.”
    Them: “but I want to learn Oracle”
    Me: “then learn to write SQL. Almost everything you’ll do with Oracle is done with SQL”
    Them: “I need to come sit with you for {a week/2 weeks/a day(!??!)} and watch what you do”
    Me (thinking ‘Oh God not again!’): “No, you need to learn SQL and get really comfortable with it”

    They almost never go learn SQL, and the conversation gets repeated in 6 months or so. I guess that comes off as maybe a little pedantic, or maybe just grouchy old man, but in the process of learning SQL you’re going to start learning Oracle, and you’re going to set yourself up to learn and understand even more. And you’re going to learn that there are usually multiple ways to solve a problem or accomplish a goal, and watching me for {a week/2 weeks/a day(!??!)} isn’t going to teach that to you, it’s going to show you how someone with 32 years (ODL!) of Oracle experience would solve it. And that likely won’t help you all that much. It comes down to what you said – you have to put in the time creating your own path. You’ll develop your own experiences and go-to sources (oracle-base.com should definitely be one of those!), and one day you’ll be able to say to someone “go learn SQL”.

  4. Yup yup yup. Very good post as usual Tim.

    There comes a point with this where we who do become too busy to show the hows and whys of something to someone else who asks. We are either too busy to help out “a little” or too busy to be any good to show them properly by which it comes down to “you need to fend for yourself”. I have seen all too often what you have described (in my current role I am currently cleaning the failed attempts from “Senior” DBA’s who didn’t learn properly – lucrative but frustrating). They ask what can we do to improve – can you show us?. Yes – for a fee. But honestly – some of the botch-ups are so basic it’s a wonder the db operated properly at all. But, as a caveat, I have seen some very good mentors. They are few and far between but exceptional. Most are like you said – blowing smoke.

    And this from someone who has been in the Oracle game for 20 years and mostly self-taught.

  5. Hi,

    I’ve always sought mentorship and I can’t imagine a time in which I’m not seeking for that. However my questions/demands are a bit different than “I want to get good at RAC. Will you teach me?”

    I’m sure many of us have embarked on “learning for ourselves” projects, but how many times have you actually felt confident enough after doing one of those, to go out and take part in an interview for a job (I know you don’t do those; but we do!) which requires that skill, without fearing that you might embarrass yourself? One mostly learns by wrestling with a subject, and that requires challenging questions and scenarios to deal with.

    When I go to people and ask them for mentorship, I’m not looking for lectures. Actually, I’m mainly looking for questions. So I don’t expect them to teach me (e.g.) what “cache fusion” is; I want to know about the scenarios in which I HAVE TO KNOW what “cache fusion” is.

    Unless you’re a very experienced professional, it’s hard to imagine situations that by studying material about a subject (and trying a few examples) you actually learn about the pitfalls of that technology as well (well, unless you’re one of the deluded “experts” who’ve got opinions about EVERYTHING. You don’t want more of them, do you?)

    Mentorship can be as simple as “Here are questions that I think you need to be able to answer, so go and figure them out!” and the reason we’ll be seeking your (or anybody else’s) mentorship is because we might believe that you’ll be asking questions that not only you suspect people might come across in real situations, but even you yourself might have come across them before.

    I think such an approach (i.e. looking for questions/problems) should be aligned with “Learn for yourself” mentality of yours; because eventually it’s the mentored who should be answering the questions.


  6. Babak Tourani: I understand the point you are making, but you’ve shown a degree of sophistication well beyond many of the people asking for help or mentoring.

    If someone contacted me and asked something like, “What scenarios do you think I have to practice when I am a RAC DBA?”, that is a much more reasonable request than saying, “Can you teach me RAC?” They are leagues apart. 🙂

    Your last two paragraphs are totally on the money and I think most people would be happy help. Why? Because the person has spent some of their own time… 🙂



  7. Hello Tim, All,
    After a career of 28 years as an Oracle developer,
    I am 100% sure that the best way to learn is by reading the Oracle documentation and also many Oracle books written by the top-level
    Oracle gurus “from cover to cover”, along with practicing, practicing,
    and, again, practicing for yourself and trying always to find several solutions to a problem, and, once a problem solved, not to stop there
    but to continue looking after an even better solution.
    But, usually, the main reason invoked for which people prefer a class
    of 5 days in the hope that it will teach them not all, but all that they
    will really need in their practical career is the lack of time …
    “We should attend a class because we don’t have the time to read through an entire book … “.
    They are somehow right in what concerns a starting point of learning
    a new domain, the only problem is that learning SHOULD CONTINUE
    beyond that class taken.
    Unfortunately, in most working places there are really very few opportunities to take a class …
    Today for example, I would be glad to take a class specifically designed
    and planned in such a way that a good Oracle developer could learn
    fast the basics for becoming his/her own DBA … able to manage
    a database for their own needs.
    This is something totally different from teaching someone who does not know anything at all about Oracle …
    I want to be confident that I will be able to do it by myself, based
    on reading only … but it will take much longer.

    Once again, many thanks for all the so interesting and clear posts
    on your web site, this post included 🙂

    Best Regards,
    Iudith Mentzel

  8. Iudith Mentzel: Another reason for going on a course is you get to focus on something without distraction. Having 5 days without work interruptions can be really useful. Doing computer-based training or reading during work hours involves managing distractions. 🙂



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