As a DBA, what do I need to learn next?

Arup Nanda did a talk on Big Data as part of the OTN APAC Tour and one of the points he made was DBAs need to get involved in all this new tech or they will get left behind and be out of a job. Someone came up to me and asked me my opinion, basically saying, “What do I need to learn next?” That’s a very difficult question to answer for a number of reasons.

The DBA job continues to evolve and you need to evolve with it. A few years ago I was able to be an Oracle database specialist. Now I need to look after SQL Server and MySQL as well. I’m also expected to know about assorted application server and web server products, as well as operating systems etc. You can’t be a specialist at everything, so as a DBA we are now forced to be generalists. What’s more, most companies don’t really want a specialist anymore. They want someone that can turn their hand to anything. The role will almost certainly include some of these big data pieces as we move forward.

Do a bit of Googling and you will see the Hadoop ecosystem is huge. There are loads of pieces from loads of projects and they are all changing rapidly. The chances are, what you learned 2 years ago has been almost completely replaced now. This is often the case when something “new” comes to the forefront. Over time things evolve, some projects win and some projects lose. Eventually things stabilise and life gets a little easier. This is not to say you shouldn’t get involved now, but just remember it is a moving target. Everything you learn about it will be useful, but not necessarily exactly what you need for your next project.

I’m not a big data guy, so my opinion is rather uneducated, but following on from the previous points, it seems to me there is no such thing as a “big data expert”. You probably need to be a “big data generalist”, that doesn’t know everything about any of the pieces, but knows enough about each of them to string them together to do something useful. This is an important skill in itself.

As for me personally, my website is a reflection of one part of my work life. The Oracle bit. I have an ever growing to-do list that is mostly made up of Oracle stuff, but also includes big data, docker, IoT and …

It’s difficult enough to keep on top of the stuff you need for your day job, not to mention the new stuff needed to position yourself for the future. So when you ask me, “What do I need to learn next?”, I will probably answer, “When you find out, can you please tell me?” 🙂



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. 🙂



Learn it or don’t. The choice is yours.

glasses-272399_1280-smallTechnology is scary for a lot of people, but the biggest problem I see out there is denial (It’s not just a river in Africa! 🙂 ).


For people who are new to technology, the biggest problem I see is they refuse to actually read what is on the screen. I’m not talking about those stupid End User License Agreement (EULA) screens that nobody reads. I’m talking about basic instructions. If a screen says,

“Enter your username and password, then click the Login button.”

I don’t think that should be a taxing problem for anyone, but for the less computer literate, if something doesn’t go *exactly* as they expect, they go into total melt down. People just have to take a deep breath and read what is in front of them.


The situation is not always much different for many techies when they are faced with learning new skills. All those lessons you learned in your core skill-set seem to go out of the window. Things like:

  • Read the manuals.
  • Check the log files.
  • Check the vendor support website.
  • Google it.
  • Raise a support call.

Instead, people throw their toys out of the pram and decide the product/feature is rubbish and give up.

This is exactly what happened to me when I started playing with the Multitenant option. I was in total denial for ages. When I finally made the decision to sit down and figure it out it wasn’t so bad. It was just different to what I was used to.

Learning is not a spectator sport!

(Shameless use of the title of Connor McDonald’s blog, which is in itself credited to D. Blocher.)

Learning stuff is all about time. The optimizer fairy didn’t visit Jonathan Lewis one day and tell him “the secret”. If you don’t spend the time, or you give up at the first hurdle, you are never going to get anywhere. You will probably start to make excuses. I’m too old. It’s too complicated. I’ve always been rubbish at learning new stuff. I don’t have time. My company doesn’t support me. We won’t use it for another 3 years, so I’ll leave it until later. The list is endless.

Next time you are sitting in front of the TV watching some trash, ask yourself what those “smart kids” are doing at the moment?

I don’t care what you do with your life. Your choices are no more or less valid than mine. Just don’t fool yourself. Be honest. If you wanted to learn it you would. The fact you haven’t means you really can’t be bothered. 🙂



Learning to learn…

One of the things that disappoints me about all my time in education is that nobody actually taught me how to learn. Instead I had to stumble along, gradually trying to pick up what works for me. I guess I finally discovered how to learn during my PhD. What did I discover? That I learn in pretty much the same way as everyone else. Pity someone didn’t save me a few years and give me the heads-up a bit earlier. I read this quote from Dune recently,

“… because his first training was in how to learn. It’s shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.”

It’s actually pretty simple to push stuff from your short term to long term memory. All you have to do is,

  1. Read/revise a subject. Make sure you get a good understanding of the basic principles and some of the important facts surrounding the subject.
  2. About 2-3 days after learning something new, run quickly through that subject again. You don’t have to slave over it. You just have to do a quick pass through to jog your memory.
  3. After about a week of the second pass, do a third pass through the information.

In doing this, you’ve taken a very big step toward transferring that knowledge from your short term memory to your long term memory. It’s simple, but it takes effort!

But that’s just facts right? Yes, but as you learn more stuff you start to notice patterns and build relationships between those items, which help you to draw conclusions that others see as leaps of faith or moments of inspiration. Those gurus you look up to aren’t any cleverer than you. They’ve just made all the same mistakes you did, but a few years before you!

Just some idle thoughts before bed…



PS. If you dislike formal approaches to learning, just offer to teach a class on a topic. If you are a conscientious teacher, you will make so many passes through the information before stepping in front of your students, it will be burnt into your brain forever. 🙂