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Don Burleson Blog 







Ideal personality type for a production support DBA

Oracle Database Tips by Donald BurlesonMay 29, 2015

I work helping large companies interview Oracle DBA's, and more than ever before, it's become critical to accurately access a professional for a "trusted" DBA position.  DBA who manage valuable data, confidential information or large amounts of money can expect to be thoroughly screened and examined under a microscope. 

It may sound like over-kill, but large corporations and now performing background checks that are on-par with government security clearances, all because a few bad apples have tarnished the reputation of database administrators.

The high costs of low screening


Corporate HR employers are going to great expense to ensure that their new Oracle DBA's will not pose any risk to their mission-critical data. The stakes are high, and the news is full of reports of theft by immoral database professionals.

  • In Florida, William Sullivan faces accusations that he stole millions of records from their database, selling their mission-critical data to a data broker.

  • In California, Jennifer Adams, 45, an IT systems administrator, allegedly orchestrated a tax fraud scheme that scammed the government out of more than $50,000.

 So, it it possible to predict what DBA's might steal, given the opportunity?  Managers must perform due diligence and you need to perform extensive background checks, especially for DBA's in trusted positions:

  •  Background Check:  You need to conduct a full background investigation and look under every stone for evidence of personality and character flaws.   . Screening job applicants for immoral behavior is an important job when hiring Oracle DBA staff.

  • Credit Check:  Credit reports and fast, cheap and accurate, and it's perfectly legal to use credit reports to screen job candidates.  See this link on how large corporations are using bad credit reports to identify high-risk DBA's.

  • Court Check:  You should always check all Civil and Criminal court history, especially the criminal history.  Some companies will disqualify job applicants who have ever had a bench warrant issued because it indicates disrespect for the law and candidates with a history excessive lawsuits (called "suers") may not play well with others.

  • Surprise drug testing:  Some employers are committed to a drug free workplace and random urinalysis is an absolute requirement.  I heard about one case recently where a applicants urine test came bask as "inhuman"! That's right, he got Fido to pee in his cup . . .   

A simple Google search can reveal volumes about a job applicant's morals



Screening for a emergency support production DBA


In the past I have examined the types of DBA personalities, but what type of personality is best for a production support DBA?

Larger corporations use personality tests like the MMPI which do a great job in accessing personality, but it's never easy to predict real-world behavior.  I've noted some traits that are unique to successful computer professionals and I use many of the same personality profiling tools as large corporations for screening idea candidates for stressful computer jobs.

Being a good DBA is not all about being smart

There are many types of people who are well-suited to being an Oracle DBA, but this job also attracts people with undesirable personality traits, such as the narcissistic personality disorders that is also common among doctors and other people with advanced training and high responsibility.

Narcissistic personality disorders are common among computer superstars

Accessing the ideal personality for the emergency support DBA

Even though the vast majority of DBA's are general practitioners, there have emerged several specialty areas for the Oracle DBA, as distinguished by the distinct types of Oracle DBA work, depending upon the needs of the IT shop community:

  • Development DBA: This DBA assists the developers and performs non-emergency DBA work.  This job role is also called the Oracle Proctologist because it involves dealing with a lot of butt holes.

  • Production DBA:  This is the on-call DBA for unplanned outages, emergencies where good troubleshooting skills are required and the stress levels can get quite high.

The special job of the emergency support DBA

The costs of unplanned downtime for an Oracle database are quite high.  It's not uncommon to see systems with a downtime cost of a hundred thousand dollars per minute, to a hospital system where people's lives are at stake.

Its always stressful re-started a failed computer system when an entire factory has stopped working, and it takes a special type of DBA to deal with the stress of a production recovery.

Remaining cool under fire

Not all DBA's are alike, and many people do not realize how stressful a DBA job can be.  Back in the 1980's, all DBA's "rotated" in production support, and I clearly remember people who could not handle the stress of a real production outage. 

  • Works well without sleep:  A production support DBA must be on-call at all times and must respond within five minutes to any production outages.  Beepers go off at 3:00 AM and a good production support DBA may have to stay awake for over 24 hours in catastrophic cases of failure.  Some of my own production support DBA's use chewing tobacco to stay awake for long stretches.

  • Does not self medicate:  Oracle DBA jobs can many of the same stress-related illnesses as combat soldiers, and this imposes other special screening problems, since many people in high stress jobs tend to self-medicate (alcohol & drugs) when off duty. 

  • Does not panic:  Panic is the enemy of any emergency support DBA and a good production support DBA will not try any impulsive techniques.

Here is a picture of a production DBA at work.  Note the overflowing ashtray, cigars, coffee cups, Maalox and prescription medicine bottles.

Production support DBA's may chain smoke and live on caffeine and Maalox.

So how do we find DBA's with the "Right Stuff" for these stressful jobs?

Evaluating DBA's for Emergency Support Jobs

Emergency support remains a super-stressful area of Oracle administration that requires that you remain cool under fire.  These people tend to have personalities that reflect in their backgrounds:

A good emergency support DBA is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and you do not want to hire a DBA who shows severe risk averse behaviors.  The right personality for emergency support jobs tend to gravitate into semi-dangerous activities, with measured risks.  These types of hobbies require that you remain cool under stress because if you panic it can be fatal:

  • Scuba Diving:  Almost all of my emergency support DBA's are certified scuba divers.

  • Aviation:  Many production DBA's enjoy flying as a private pilot, while others enjoy skydiving, parasailing and hang gliding.

  • Skiing:  Skiing and snowboarding are common activities of successful emergency DBA's

  • Stressful job history:  Military people who have been specifically trained to deal with combat stress tend to make good production support DBA's.

Even though a thrill-seeker might indicate the type of person who is right for an emergency support job, it's important to note that we do not want to hire people who engage in self-destructive behaviors.

In sum, there are no predictive measure that guarantee that the DBA you hire will be able to tolerate the extreme stress of emergency support, but careful and through background investigations and screening can greatly improve your chances of hiring a honest, responsible DBA who can be trusted in an emergency.

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Note: This Oracle documentation was created as a support and Oracle training reference for use by our DBA performance tuning consulting professionals.  Feel free to ask questions on our Oracle forum.

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