How I became a Database Administrator

It seems that I am always hearing about the “Accidental DBA,” the person that was given the job because they knew the most about it.  My trip was a bit different, but not out of the ordinary I guess.

When I was younger my dad had a Tandy 1000 computer, and I loved it.  I never did any programming, I just played those Sierra games like Police Quest, Space Quest, King’s Quest, etc…  I remember when we started connecting to other computers using the Bulletin Board System (BBS) and here I’d play text based games.  I specifically remember playing Rambo, because this game had an ascii knife that you would use to impale foes.

acu-soldier-1I joined the Army to be a police officer, and I remember being the only person in the barracks with a computer in my room.  I liked gaming, and upgraded often to play the best games.  My SWAT team actually got together to play Rainbow Six via a LAN party on a few occasions.  I eventually started using laptops for work, taking an access database called Soldier Database which truly amazed me.  I did not know a lot about databases at the time, but I knew I wanted to create applications like this!  In 2005 I was in Tikrit, Iraq.  It was about 2pm and I remember standing on the roof of a building watching prisoners go about their day.  It was probably 110 degrees, and I was wearing full armor, and hating it.  I noticed a truck just outside of the prison a little bit and when the door to the truck opened it looked like smoke / steam came out of it.


p40It was a Communications Truck, and it was COLD!  I sort of decided right then that being a cop was overrated and I wanted to pursue a career that included being in the air conditioning as much as possible.  Later that year I was working indoors, in the Tactical Operations Center.  My job was to receive reports from squads that were out in the city running missions, and update spreadsheets with information from the reports.  Hey I was in Air Conditioning, but I was also working 6pm to 6am 7 days a week with no days off…  Tradeoffs.  So I would receive a report from a squad that was at an Iraqi Police Station and the report contained information on the weapons they stored, training they conducted, new police officers, former police officers, etc.  My unit had a separate Excel workbook for each item that they tracked / reported on, 13 workbooks.  Each workbook contained 8 worksheets, 1 for every police department in the city.  If something changed in one police department I had to open every workbook, find that police station, and update it.  Typically we have 3-6 squads out per shift, and they would visit 3-4 police stations.  That’s a lot of updates!  This is where I found MS Access 2003.  Using Google and whatever freetime I could muster I created my first database that linked tables of information to each other and I only had to update something once!  I was in heaven.  So I showed it to my boss and he had no idea how to use Access so he vetoed the project and continued to update 13 workbooks / shift, between 3 and 12 times a day.

When I got back to the states my wife and I moved back to Wisconsin where I decided to go to school.  I chose UW-Milwaukee because they showed me a course that covered databases.  That was all I needed, I wanted to be a DBA!  4 years later I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Business Administration – Management Information Systems degree, having had 2 “database” courses.  The first was an introduction to MS Office =(  The second was an introduction to SQL Server which used Access as a front end.  After graduating in December of 2010 no one was hiring Junior Database Administrators, and to be honest there weren’t many people hiring period.

The day I was supposed to start stocking shelves at Target (after 15 glorious years in the Army) I was offered a position as a “Support Analyst” (read Help Desk).  The company used MS Access 2003 as a front end for their SQL Server & Oracle Rdb databases.  After about a year and a half the company decided to create a Database Administrator position.  Until this point the CIO had been handling it.  I saw the internal announcement and after about a month of hemming and hawing over whether to submit an application because I had no experience I finally jumped in.  My boss agreed and I had to sit for another 6 months in support waiting for my replacement to be hired & trained.

passDuring this time I was reading articles and blogs.  The CIO took me to my first Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Summit in 2012.  I was completely overwhelmed.  I was trying my hardest to take 100 and 200 level courses but they seemed too easy and the 300s seemed ridiculous.  I thought for sure I was going to fail.  Everything had always come easily and this was not showing up at all!  At the Summit I was introduced to Twitter, well I had an account for ages but didn’t know it could be used for good!  I was introduced to hashtags like #FirstTimers, #Summit12, #SQLPASS, and #SQLHelp.  That last one is a life saver for any of you that stumble on this in your early years.

So it’s my second year in the this position, and I feel like I don’t know much more than I did when I started.  Tim Ford‘s advice was to learn & master backups.  I’ve tried to learn it, but I’m far from a master at this point.  I’ll be returning to the Summit for 2013 in a few days.  I have a better understanding of my job, and as a result my sessions are more focused.  Even more importantly, I have a small network of support from Twitter and SQLPass.  People I know I can hit up for help and they’ll graciously give it.

Many many shoutouts to these guys that have been instrumental in me making it to this 1 year mark!

The list could go on and on!  SQLPass is an amazing network.

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