An Eye for Efficiency : Why you are crap at your job!

One of my colleagues says that I think everyone is crap at their job, and to be honest that’s probably true. Most people are terrible, but they have so little self awareness they actually think they are good. The few people I think are good are those that have some self awareness and have an eye for efficiency. This isn’t just about technology, you can exercise these muscles in everyday life. I mentioned one example of how people approach parking barriers here, but here are some other things I’ve witnessed/experienced.

Shop Checkout

There’s a small, but busy, shop I go to several times a week. The process all the checkout staff go through is like this.

  • Scan all items, leaving them balanced on the checkout in a rather messy fashion.
  • Ask if you want a bag.
  • Pack all those scanned items into the bag.
  • Ask how you want to pay. If you pay by card, which most people do, they type in a code, wait a couple of seconds, then you touch your card to pay.

This drives me insane for a couple of reasons.

  • If they asked about the bag at the start, they could scan straight into the bag. This would save a significant amount of time in itself.
  • They could ask, “Are you going to pay by card?”, whilst they are scanning, and type in the code immediately once the last item is scanned.

Both items would shave quite a number of seconds off the transaction time. For each basket it might be just 30 seconds or so, but when there is a queue of people, which is very often, it makes a big difference. I stand there going crazy wanting to say something, but realising they will think I’m being a dick…

I worked in shops as a kid. I know how you should handle a checkout. In my day we didn’t have the scanners, so you would memorise the prices of popular items so you could get them through the checkout quicker than having to read the price tag then type it.

It amazes me the people on the checkout can’t see this and fix it themselves. It saddens me that their boss hasn’t taken the time to observe them and see this issue, then correct it. I guess they think they just need more staff. ūüôĀ

Production Line

I’ve done a couple of production line jobs in summer holidays during University. In one job I worked packing garlic bread for 3 months. There were several stations in the line, and not surprisingly the line manager tried to move people between the stations to keep the flow of product consistent between all stations. I worked on the last station, which involved putting the packaged garlic bread into a cardboard sleeve. It was murder on your hands. Although the line manager would add and remove people from our station, they never dealt with the final link in the chain, which was the real problem. Once we filled up a crate, someone had to walk it over to the other side of the room and bring back a new empty crate. That was one person missing from the station a lot of the time. I moved the crates next to our station and it was like I had done some witchcraft. It seemed like an obvious waste of time to me, so I dealt with it. I’m sure as soon as I left the crates were moved back to their original location, because that’s where they were meant to go…

In both these cases, and in the case of the parking barrier, all I’ve done is observe what is happening and think how it could be done better. I don’t think this needs a brain the size of a planet. It’s more about having the desire to see things running smoothly. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to give a crap about that, which is why most people are crap at their jobs…

Now I could link this back to some discussion on automation, or the principle of flow in devops, but you should already be able to make that connection for yourself, and if you can’t, I don’t think me telling you is going to make a difference…

Cheers

Tim…

Real Talk : PL/SQL and SQL as your only development skill

notes-514998_640This morning I¬†was asked a question about the job opportunities for a PL/SQL developer these days. I’m talking about someone with good SQL and PL/SQL skills, but limited, or no,¬†knowledge of other development languages.

I think most people know¬†I’m a big fan of PL/SQL. If you have good SQL skills and you know PL/SQL well, you can do pretty much anything with an Oracle database, including all types¬†of web service and web development. Throw in some APEX skills and you can be super productive as a web developer against Oracle databases.

So back to the question, what are the job opportunities for a PL/SQL developer? In the UK at least, that’s not a great place to be right now. When I first started with Oracle technology it was not uncommon for companies to employ developers just to code PL/SQL. There are still jobs like that available, my employer has¬†two PL/SQL contractors right now, but the market for a programmer with just PL/SQL is on the decline. Search for “programming language popularity” and you will see a number of indexes don’t include SQL and PL/SQL in the top 20 lists. Search for “enterprise programming language popularity” and¬†you will see SQL and PL/SQL appear. There may be flaws in the way the information for these lists is gathered, but you get the message.

That’s not to say SQL and PL/SQL¬†skills are not of value, just that those skills alone are no longer enough. They have to be part of a package that includes other development skills.

Most people I talk to work in organisations that use multiple database engines (Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, several NoSQL engines), so having a person that can only do PL/SQL development means they are of limited use compared to someone that also knows Java, C# or Javascript to a high level. That is, development skills that span database engines.

In a similar¬†way, my current employer¬†won’t commit to APEX as a strategic development platform because it is just for Oracle databases. Using database links to other engines to allow you to continue using APEX against them is not strategic. ūüôā In the same way, we have a lot of PL/SQL right now, but in the future I can see this being of less importance compared to other skills that are multi-engine. Do I like this situation? No, but it seems to be where we are right now.

Of course, this could be a conversation about “Java/C#/Javascript as your only development skill”. Development in todays world requires multiple languages, each serving a different purpose. It could also be a database engine discussion. I can’t imagine ever working for a company again that doesn’t expect me to look after MySQL, SQL Server and other engines, as well as Oracle.

I hope this doesn’t come off as negative. I love SQL and PL/SQL and I would love to be able to tell you these skills alone would set you up for life, but that would be a lie. As a developer, you are forced to follow the market and the market says you need multiple development skills to survive. I hope you pick SQL and PL/SQL as part of your skill set, as they are still very important in enterprise companies, but in the current climate betting your whole development career on a single language¬†is not a safe bet. ūüôā

Cheers

Tim…

PS. Us old folks will cling on until the bitter end. ūüôā

The Cloud : They took our jobs!

The title is of course inspired by “They took our jobs!” from South Park.

I’ve been doing some cloud-related talks recently and a pretty regular question¬†is, “How is this going to affect my job as a [DBA | Sysadmin]?”

My answers usually include some of the following points.

  • Back in the old days, we used to spend hours obsessing about redo and rollback/undo and sizing of the individual parts that make up the SGA and PGA. Keeping on top of some of this stuff was a full time job, even for a small number of databases.¬†Over time Oracle have added loads of automated features that mean we don’t have to worry about this stuff for “most”¬†of our databases.¬†So that means less DBAs right? Not really. We are just expected to cope with a lot more stuff¬†now. Rather than looking after 3 databases, we look after hundreds¬†or¬†thousands.
  • For Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), the cloud is just a basic hosting company. You are still responsible for all system administration and database administration. A move to IaaS doesn’t affect jobs at all. If anything, it probably adds to the demand.
  • For Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings, like Database as a Service (DBaaS),¬†things may be different. Your level of interaction with the OS and database varies depending on the vendor, but in some cases, you will have zero access to the OS, so there is no system administration, and the level of control over the database is limited. Surely that affects jobs? Well, once again, this has just made life easier, so your company can do more stuff and you will probably be expected to do more.
  • As far as Software as a Service (SaaS) is concerned, as a customer there is no access to the infrastructure, so there is no DBA or sysadmin work. If you want to look after the guts of Fusion Apps what’s wrong with you get a job with Oracle. ūüôā Even if you don’t have access to the guts of the SaaS system, you are still going to spend a lot of time designing systems to interact with it!
  • The cloud means I no longer have to install operating systems and databases! Well, sometimes I really enjoy doing donkey work, but if you’ve not automated most of this stuff, you are really living in the dark ages. If you have automated it already, then the cloud isn’t really any different to what you are doing now.
  • What the cloud will not do is understand your custom applications and provide the skills needed to diagnose problems and advise on solutions.¬†All the interactions with your developers and support folks will still be necessary. I can’t see a cloud service helping with this sort of stuff ever. The role of a development DBA and the crossover between functional and technical knowledge is actually far more¬†valuable than being able to install a bit of software.

There is no doubt the cloud will affect what we as DBAs and system administrators do, but our jobs have been constantly evolving over the last couple of decades I’ve been involved in IT.¬†As Francisco said recently, “These days, DBA¬†stands for Database Architect”, which I think is kind-of true. A decade¬†ago I just did Oracle databases. Now I do Oracle, SQL Server and MySQL databases. I look after WebLogic, Tomcat, IIS and Apache App/Web servers. I’m helping to set up load balancers. I get involved in infrastructure projects for applications and middleware. It’s not that I’m awesome at any of this stuff, but as a DBA and/or system administrator you get exposed to so much, which makes you an ideal resource to help with this architectural stuff.

If you think a DBA just installs Oracle, creates databases and checks backups, your job will be gone soon. If you are a system administrator that just installs operating systems and does patches, your job will be gone soon. These are trivial tasks that anyone can learn in a few weeks, so you should hardly be surprised they can be automated out of existence. If instead you concentrate on the skills where you add true value to your company, you will be in demand for a long time!

I know it’s a bit of a random post, but I hope you can see where I’m coming from! ūüôā

Cheers

Tim…

Cloud Control 12c Database Backup Jobs (Continued)

I’ve been rather critical of the way Cloud Control handles database backup jobs, as can be seen in these two previous posts.

Yesterday I found out I schedule database backups in Cloud Control the “wrong way”…

So typically, when I am sorting out a new database, I do something like this:

  • If the host doesn’t already have an agent, push one out the to server.
  • Discover the targets. For existing hosts, this may just be discovering a new database.
  • Tell Cloud Control to used the RMAN catalog for backups. (Oracle Database > Availability > Backup & Recovery > Recovery Catalog Settings)
  • Set the default location for the backups and any other stuff.¬†(Oracle Database > Availability > Backup & Recovery > Backups Settings)
  • Finally schedule the backup. (Oracle Database > Availability > Backup & Recovery > Schedule Backups…)

Notice how all the backup-related things come from the same location (Oracle Database > Availability > Backup & Recovery). Obvious right? Wrong!

So it turns out, if you schedule the backup using the¬†(Oracle Database > Availability > Backup & Recovery > Schedule Backups…) screen, you do schedule a backup job, it works and it is visible in the (Enterprise > Job > Activity) screen, but it is not a “real” Cloud Control job. It is actually created using the job type of “Backup”, which is not a supported job type, rather than the job type “RMANScript”.

If you schedule a backup in this way, you can’t:

  • use the job library.
  • do a create-like of an existing job.
  • edit most of the details about the job after it’s created, including the RMAN script.
  • describe the job using EMCLI.

So what is the solution? Well, you do all the prep in the same way, but you don’t actually schedule the job using the¬†(Oracle Database > Availability > Backup & Recovery > Schedule Backups…) screen. You do it directly from the¬†(Enterprise > Job > Activity) screen. If you do it from here, then you get to pick the “RMANScript” job type and suddenly everything works much better and things seem a lot more consistent. Basically, you’ve created a “real” Cloud Control job.

So in my latest round of [enchancement requests | bug reports] I got the answer back from development that I was doing it wrong, which is good to know, and they want to close the SR. My response to that was, why do you let me do it the “wrong way”? Why does the¬†(Oracle Database > Availability > Backup & Recovery > Schedule Backups…) screen not schedule a “real” Cloud Control job? It seems odd to me that you build a product that lets you do things inconsistently. It’s probably a throw back to the old DBConsole stuff, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

I’m going to recreate all my backup jobs to make them use the “RMANScript” job type, which will solve my EMCLI issues, but I really think this mess should get cleaned up. I wonder how many other people out there are not creating “real” Cloud Control jobs for their database backups?

I’m going add this blog post to my SR and see what the response is…

Cheers

Tim…

I love Cloud Control 12c, but the job management is really annoying!

Cloud Control 12c is a great product. Yes, it is suffering from bloat, but generally it is a really great tool. I’m always encouraging people to ditch the DBControl and switch to Cloud Control!

Having said that, one area that annoys the hell out of me is the job management, which feels really clumsy. I started to write this post, then felt a bit guilty because I hadn’t actually bothered to raise an enhancement request, so that’s what I’ve just done!

My main gripes are the following.

  • Editing Jobs: You can edit some parameters of jobs, but not all. This is really frustrating and often means you have to delete and recreate a job in order to make a minor change.
  • Create Like: There is still no support for “Create Like” of a database backup job. Most of our jobs are database backup jobs, so this omission is quite annoying.
  • Run Now: There is no “Run Now” type of functionality on the scheduled jobs. You either have to create a new one-off job (with out Create Like), or alter the schedule, then remember to alter it back once the job has finished. A “Run Now” option that doesn’t affect the normal schedule would be really handy.
  • Backup Destination: If you use “CONFIGURE CHANNEL DEVICE TYPE DISK FORMAT ‘/path/to/backup/%U’;” from RMAN, or use the Backup Settings screen in Cloud Control, which does the same thing, the path used for the backup works fine. If on the other hand you use the “Over Default Settings” option while creating the database backup job, the settings seem to be completely ignored. This should either work, or be removed as an option because it catches me out all the time!

OK, the last one is a bug, not an enhancement request, but I thought I would throw that into the mix anyway. ūüôā

We are in the process of upgrading and moving databases at the moment, so amending the backup jobs is a big thing for us. Yesterday afternoon, evening and night was littered with a chorus of expletives in relation to Cloud Control job management, which gave me the activation energy to post this rant. ūüôā

Note. Even as I rant, I am still convinced centralising your jobs in Cloud Control is a good thing!

Cheers

Tim…

Update: My enhancement request is being split into three separate SRs and they are being put forward to the development team as formal enhancement requests. Fingers crossed they will get implemented.

The fourth point is a “problem between keyboard and chair”. I misunderstood what this feature was supposed to do. My bad. ūüôā