Over the past two weeks I have seen and heard more than a handful of people ask a very simple question: Where are all the SQL Server experts? Many people have offered an answer as to why there is a “shortage” of experts to be found, but none of the explanations I have read seem to get to the root cause of the problem.
There is a dire need for better technical managers in the world.
As a basketball coach I would look at a player as a freshman, evaluate their skills, and then spend the next two years working with them on a specific set of drills so that they would fulfill a role for my team in the future. For example, if I knew I needed them to get rebounds we would focus on those drills primarily. By the time they became seniors they would fill a need for the team to be successful.
How many managers these days have such foresight that they can say “Look, PowerPivot is coming, and some people keep asking about cubes, maybe I should send some people for some BI training”. Very few, because most managers are not in their role to have foresight or to innovate, they are there because they can execute orders given to them by others.
And therein lies the bulk of the problem, poor managers lead to poor quality employees which lead to everyone shaking their head and saying “how do you claim to have five years’ experience as a DBA and not know what a heap is?”
I was very fortunate that when I was taking my first baby steps as a DBA. I had a wonderful manager to watch over me. Let’s call him Vinny, because that’s his name anyway. Vinny was more than just my manager, he was my coach. He encouraged me to be a sponge. He helped me get sent off to conferences like PASS (and even got me to Barcelona once, I have no idea how that happened). And he started to work with me on the necessary soft skills I would need as my career progressed.
I said I was fortunate to have Vinny, but it’s more like I hit the Manager Lotto with him. Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky. Including me, because when Vinny retired a few years back none of my subsequent direct managers had the same coaching ability that Vinny did. As I was shuffled from one manager to another over time I found that Vinny was truly a treasure. Without him I doubt I would have progressed as far and as fast as I did.
So, when I see questions about trying to find SQL Server experts I sit right up and yell at my iMac screen and say “WE’RE RIGHT HERE!” But I am also the same guy who likes to yell “I’M AS MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GONNA TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” every time I hear the neighbor’s dog barking at night.
I have little doubt that many managers are looking at their current staff and thinking “boy, if I only had a guy/gal that could do everything I need, then we’d be making progress. Why can’t I find that expert?” And if I was within reach I would slap them in the back of the head and tell them to wake up.
It’s almost comical that people are sitting around debating the idea about where the SQL Server experts have gone and yet very few people are trying to do something about it. Did they think we all went on strike, emulating a story line from Atlas Shrugged? If you were alone in a forest and couldn’t find food, would you turn to your friend and say “man, why isn’t there a KFC nearby?” No! You roll up your sleeves and take matters into your own hands! You would go find the food you need. So why not go and find the experts?
You want to know where the SQL Server experts have gone? I’ll tell you where they have gone:
They Are Sitting In Front Of You
Unless you don’t have a DBA in your shop then chances are you have an expert right there in front of your face every day. Have you ever tried listening to your DBA when they tell you that the unique constraint that the developer implemented doesn’t scale beyond 100 rows? Or did you simply look their way and say “just make it work and don’t touch the code”.
Vinny would listen to the DBA. So should you.
Chances are you have a DBA that is already a generalist in many areas and a specialist in one or two. Try finding out what areas are their specialty and see if you can complement them with others. Yeah, that’s right, others. Which reminds me…
There Is A Crapload Of Stuff To Know
Check out this list: SQL Server, SQL Server Management Studio, SQL Server Analysis Services, SQL Server Integration Services, SQL Server Reporting Services, SQL Server Configuration Manager, SQL Server Profiler, SQL Server Notification Services, T-SQL, and SQL Azure. Noticing anything in common? Yeah, they all have the letters SQL in them. Which means, by default, that your DBA knows all of them inside and out, backwards and forwards, right?
Just because it says SQL doesn’t mean your DBA will know everything well enough to have an immediate answer for whatever problem you need fixed immediately. That doesn’t mean they are not an expert. In fact, the best Senior DBAs are the ones that can open the manual and understand something well enough in a reasonable amount of time that they have a chance at helping you with your problem. So, if they take a few hours to figure out something in SSIS that doesn’t mean you start questioning their skills as if you are thinking about taking away the car keys from grandpa.
Also, when you go looking for help, try to refrain from listing everything under the Sun in your job description. I bet a LOT of people frustrated about the perceived lack of SQL Server experts are the same people that want someone to step in as their DBA/Exchange admin/Sharepoint admin/IIS guru/AD expert. I laugh out loud when I get emails from recruiters telling me that they have my dream job, doing those five things and having over 700 databases under my control. I like to tell them that they are the ones dreaming. Not only don’t I want that job, but neither does anyone else, unless you plan on paying for five salaries as well.
Vinny knew this, and that’s why we set up our team in a manner to have complementary skills, and we would reassess those skills periodically to make certain we had enough bases covered.
So don’t be surprised that the only people showing up to the interview are the ones that aren’t qualified. See, the ones that are qualified are too smart to show up for a nightmare job description. And, quite frankly, if you have to resort to recruiters to find yourself a good DBA then you might as well be ordering brides from Russia. If you want to find where the real SQL Server experts are these days, everyone knows that…
We Are Hanging Out On Twitter
Look, if you want to find the best DBAs, doesn’t it make sense to go to where they are, as opposed to waiting for them to come find you and your craptastic job description? If you are actively interviewing strangers for an open position with your company then you are not doing anything different if you were to place an ad for a date on Craigslist. You have about the same chance at happiness.
If you truly want to find the experts then go to where the experts are. Attend a local user group meeting. Go to a SQL Saturday. Join PASS and attend the PASS Summit. Get hooked on Twitter and use the #sqlhelp hashtag. We are not hiding from anyone. We’re right here, we love to help each other, and we love to talk about new opportunities all the time. It helps us to understand more about where we are, where we are going, and the paths that are available.
Vinny knew this as well. He understood that networking was a key part in my success, mostly because I was working alone in my office and I would need some type of virtual water cooler.
If you want to find the SQL Server experts stop expecting us to show up out of nowhere. We aren’t going to show up to interview for some awful job description. Your best bet to land an expert DBA? Buy us dinner and get to know us a bit before you ask us to go steady. I know you’ve got the money, because you haven’t spent anything on your…
So, you are standing there, lamenting about how you can’t find any SQL Server expert yet you have people on staff right now, perhaps even a DBA. Or maybe you have someone who is interested in becoming a DBA. Go and send them to a training class! Look ahead to the future, plan what you will need to get done, and send one of your employees to get the necessary training. You can send them to the PASS Summit where they will not only learn technical skills but they will increase their network as well.
Vinny knew this. He not only sent me to the PASS Summit, he had me take a pre-con seminar. He knew that I would learn a lot from the seminar and make a friend or two, and that those friends would serve as a valuable resource when I needed help. Vinny knew all of this, and so should you.
Over the years my network has expanded greatly. And as a SQL MVP I get access to the greatest help support imaginable. Back when I was still a production DBA, if I needed help I could get it in a very short amount of time. It made me very efficient at my job. I didn’t need to spend hours trying sixteen different solutions before deciding on a course of action. I could ask a question, get sixteen answers, and then decide where to focus my efforts.
And all because I had a manager that wasn’t afraid to send me to whatever training I needed. If you are asking about where all the SQL Server experts are, ask yourself if you have been doing all you can to train the people you already have. Chances are you haven’t because you’re no Vinny. That’s OK, few people are. But if you are a manager of a DBA then you should really be able to…
Know The Difference Between Good and Bad
If you have no idea what a DBA does and you find yourself imitating Bob from Office Space by asking them “What, exactly, would you say it is that you do here”, then you shouldn’t be managing the DBA. It’s that simple. If you have no idea if the person reporting to you is doing a good job or not, then they shouldn’t be reporting to you. And you shouldn’t be scratching your head wondering why you can’t find an expert, either, because you have no frakkin idea if they are good or bad.
Vinny knew the difference (and yet he still kept me around at the start). That’s why he could give me the necessary course corrections from time to time. Every so often we would talk about some of the latest trends, where I wanted to take a deep dive next, or something that was related to my job. He would match my interests with the needs of the company and keep me on track for growth. And as time went on I would find myself willing to crash through thicker and thicker walls for him.
He never looked at my desk and said “why can’t I find an expert?” He knew he had one in the making, and he was going to coach me all the way there. And he did.
And that’s how I got here. Because of Vinny.
Apparently there are too few Vinny’s in the world, and that’s why there is a perception that there aren’t enough SQL Server experts.
Don’t Kid Yourself
I saw some people mention the possibility that there are simply more open positions available than people to fill them. Don’t kid yourself, the US of A is at about 10% unemployment right now. There is not a glut of open jobs.
What we have is a dearth of people like Vinny that can take someone like me and make them into an expert.
You want more experts? Hire better managers. Hire people that can inspire others. Promote people that can lead and innovate as opposed to just executing orders. You’ll be surprised at the results.