Type of DBA Are You?
Tales from the trenches
By Don Burleson
Most computer professionals have a very high
opinion of themselves as shown by these
Computer Motivational Posters.
Also see narcissistic
personality disorders, regarding computer personalities.
As a whole, I
find that DBAs are intelligent, persistent and hard-working IT professionals.
However, I am always surprised at their diverse personalities. A DBA can be shy
or gregarious, immaculate or slovenly, charming or abrasive.
As a DBA
consultant, I have worked with hundreds of DBAs over the past 20 years and I
meet new DBAs every week. As a consultant, I do not always have time to get to
know a DBA on a personal level, and I must make a quick evaluation based on
limited data. Over the years, I have developed three personality types for DBAs
to help me to understand them better and to allow me to work with them more
effectively. I call my categories the Scientist DBA, the Gung-Ho DBA, and the
This article is only intended as a light-hearted look at the DBA profession, and
it is based solely on my unscientific observations of DBA personality types. It
is my hope that you will see yourself in some of these DBA personality types and
that these descriptions will remind you of a fellow DBA.
The scientist DBA
is brilliant and sometimes shy, hates disorder, chaos and conundrums, and
greatly enjoys diving into the internals of their database.
The scientist DBA
tends to have a love of music and gravitates towards degrees in “pure”
majors such as History, English, Math, or Physics.
Scientist DBAs usually keeps
their offices neat and orderly, with everything in its proper place.
is “Prove it,” and they love to try out their database hypotheses on their
test systems. Common indicators of the scientist DBA may include:
to detail — Scientist DBAs like order in every area of their
lives and their database is no exception. Every tablespace and table must
stay optimized, and the scientist DBA gets visibly disturbed when a table
takes too many extents or when a tablespace becomes fragmented. They miss
nothing, and pride themselves on their close attention to every detail of
professional standards — The scientist DBA believes that a
database can be described with mathematical equations and every assertion
about database behavior can be proven with experimentation. They sometimes
require all developers to “prove” their changes in the test database,
before allowing changes in production. The scientist DBA hates
“rules-of-thumb” and revels in finding exceptions to any general
assertion about database behavior.
reliable — Scientist DBAs spend their days in the test systems,
posing hypotheses and cranking out scripts to “prove” their theories
before making changes to their production system. The scientist DBA is very
careful and meticulous and will always justify every database change (often
with extraordinary detailed experimental evidence) before changing their
eloquent — Some, (but not all) of the scientist DBAs can be
identified by their grandiloquent prose. These DBAs love to use obscure
words and complex verbal syntax, and normally keep an Oxford English
Dictionary (OED) close at-hand. They love puns and double entendres,
and enjoy using obsolete words that have not been popular since the early
The Gung-Ho DBA
is generally characterized by a “can-do” attitude. They are always bright
and outgoing, and they always seem to be in a hurry. They tend to be impatient
(especially with stupid developer questions), and they never “suffer fools
Even though their office is in complete chaos (with stacks of paper
two-feet deep, and post-it notes cluttering the walls).
They amaze visitors by
being able to find exactly what they need within seconds.
The Gung-Ho DBA
likes stimulants, and may drink volumes of coffee, keep lots of candy and sweets
on the desk, and may be a chain smoker.
||The Gung-Ho DBA
is often a pragmatist and prefers experiential learning over database theory.
They gravitate toward degrees in “real-world” majors such as Computer
Science, Engineering, or Business Administration.
The Gung-Ho DBA is competitive
and may love sports, especially one-on-one competitive engagements such as golf
Their motto is, “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess.”
Characteristics of the Gung-Ho DBA may include:
creative — The Gung-Ho DBA likes to think “outside the box,”
and often develops novel approaches to solving DBA problems. The Gung-Ho DBA
loves new database features, and likely has a history of causing unplanned
production outages while implementing new and exciting DBA techniques. They
love to upgrade their databases, try new approaches, and if left to their
own devices, they will spend all day applying patches and tuning their
dedicated — Gung-Ho DBAs always excel at their jobs, and they take
every DBA certification exam that has ever been offered. Their job is the most
important aspect of their lives, and they are first to volunteer to work on
Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
orientation — The Gung-Ho DBA is more concerned with long-term
results than operational details. Hence, they are not at all concerned that
their tablespaces are fragmented or if a table has high extents unless it is
adversely affecting performance. The Gung-Ho DBA relies more on heuristics
(rules-of-thumb) than experimentation, and does like to “waste time”
experimenting with changes in the test system.
productive — If you are on a deadline and have a problem
requiring a Herculean effort, the Gung-Ho DBA can be counted upon to get the
job done on-time and under budget.
The Empathetic DBA
is outgoing, friendly, and reminds you of your favorite Aunt or Uncle. being
people-oriented, the Empathetic DBA is more concerned with the social aspects of
DBA work, and loves to participate in group activities such as application
design sessions and database analysis sessions with end-users.
DBA is sometimes lacking in technical skills, but people don’t care because
they are such nice people.
The Empathetic DBA makes a great manager and is
highly skilled at team building and is very tolerant of the shortcomings of
DBAs tend to gravitate toward people-oriented majors such as Psychology,
Sociology, or Education.
Their hobbies may include working with animals (dog showing), or
volunteering with civic organizations. They like sports that include team
activities such as soccer, but avoid one-on-one confrontation sports.
motto is “No one ever wrote on their tombstone I wish I had spent more time at
of the Empathetic DBA include:
— You cannot help but like the Empathetic DBA. They are generally
extroverted and always sensitive to the feelings of others. Empathetic DBAs
make great bosses because they care more about ensuring that you spend
quality time with your family than getting a DBA project done on time.
stable — Empathetic DBAs have no great interest in new DBA
features or the latest patches, and are content to keep their systems
stable. They excel in situations for which 24 x 7 availability is required,
and they will never apply a database upgrade or patch unless they have a
compelling reason. In multiple DBA shops, they feel no need to compete with
the other DBAs.
— The Empathetic DBA may get certifications, but they will never have DBA
certificates hanging on their wall because they are concerned that their
co-workers may think that they are being pretentious. Even if they win
prestigious awards, they appear almost embarrassed about any public
family over work — The Empathetic DBA places family above DBA
work in importance. They sometimes refuse to work evenings or weekends, and
cannot understand why anyone would devote their whole life to their
any of these three personality types do an effective DBA job with their systems.
However, the fun begins when shops have more than one DBA of a different
personality type. As we might expect, there is often conflict between DBAs, and
it is great fun to listen to each DBA type complain about the shortcomings of
the others. Here is a synopsis of the complaints that I commonly hear:
from the Scientist DBA —The Scientist DBA tolerates and likes the
Empathetic DBA, but has a real problem with the Gung-Ho DBA. The Scientist
DBA feels that the Gung-Ho DBA is a “loose cannon” and cannot understand
their impatience and disregard for detail. Secretly, the Scientist DBA
thinks that the Gung-Ho DBA is dangerous, and cringes at their propensity to
rush into every database upgrade and patch application without supporting
from the Gung-Ho DBA — The Gung-Ho DBA sees Empathetic DBAs as
being lax and slow, and also faults them for having highly misplaced
priorities (because they put family before work). However, they have a much
bigger problem with the Scientist DBA, whom they see as rigid and overly
cautious. Secretly, the Gung-Ho DBA thinks that the Scientist DBA should
“get a life” and stop wasting time proving theories.
from the Empathetic DBA — Privately, the Empathetic DBA does not
understand the high dedication of the Scientist DBA and Gung-Ho DBA, but
they would never say that out loud because it might hurt someone’s
from developers — As every DBA knows, all developers are secretly
studying database administration and actively plotting to take their jobs.
Hence, most developers complain that DBAs are self-righteous jerks whose
sole purpose is to impede their progress and make their lives miserable.
Again, these DBA
personality types are just my observations, and they are not based on any one
individual, living or dead. If I am on target, I would love to hear from you,
and I welcome any feedback or suggestions on how to improve my model.
Special Thanks to the World renowned cartoonist
for allowing me to use his famous
cartoons in this article.